The Prisoner can be taken on several levels.
On the surface it is a spy thriller, a continuance of McGoohan's previous television series ‘Danger Man,’ depending on your perspective of the series, but in any case he appears to be something of a confidential agent who resigns from a position of the highest secrecy. He is abducted to the village in order to have the reason for his resignation extracted, and where he will remain for as long as he lives.
Mystery surrounds the Village. Can we really be so sure as to which side runs the village, that ‘the Prisoner’ was not about to defect, or indeed the location of the village. It has been stated that this surface level of understanding is difficult to take too literary, for many of the gadgets and methods employed by the village are too fantastic for normal belief, but yet I wonder. Leucotomies have been employed, and there are numerous methods employed to extract information from any such individual. And such methods of torture, manipulation and trickery have been employed through the centuries and by organisations around the world, and still are today.
Although ‘the Prisoner’ is not technically science fiction, the white membranic mass of the Village Guardian-Rover does have a science fiction quality about it. Having independent thought, able to change its size, its as well underwater as it is on land, and seems to need no sustenance to maintain its existence.
There is social comment, taking ‘the Prisoner’ to another level. It makes the viewer think of his or her environment, well it didn't have that effect upon me at the time, to ask questions and not simply accept things as they are. This is 'thinking man's' television.
The Village represents the society we lived in at the time, and the society of today, perhaps, ‘the Prisoner’. and its social comment are more relevant today than they were 45 years ago. Number 6 is an individual trying to survive in a society of numbers. Desperately fighting to maintain both his identity and individuality, which in society today there are those who would like to take both our identity and individuality away from us, with Number 2 representing all forms of authority within society.
There is room to question, to theorise and interpret ‘the Prisoner,’ and this has been down on several levels over the past decades. And things are not taken at face value by many of the fans of ‘the Prisoner,’ yet at times they can look for the most complicated reason for something, when a far simpler explanation would do as well, if not better.
The Village can be two things, an actual place where people who know too much or too little are taken, to have the knowledge in their heads protected or extracted, either that or the village is all in the mind and that could lead to a mental breakdown for anyone!
And entertainment is another level upon which ‘the Prisoner’ can be enjoyed. To simply watch each episode without thought or care, only for its pure entertainment value, which is reason enough to watch such a series which 45 years ago was ahead of its time, but has not dated today. Such is the seemingly timeless quality of ‘the Prisoner.’
You see you can get as much or as little out of ‘the Prisoner’ as you want. But to get something out you first have to put something in. But remember, the Prisoner is there also to be enjoyed, and this should not be forgotten when you are busy theorising. It should be fun and stimulating, and that's how I find the Prisoner.
Be seeing you